Cannabis for Cancer: What We Know
Many patients continue to consume cannabis for cancer despite solid backing from the medical community. It’s no wonder, of course; cannabis has many amazing benefits that can directly improve cancer symptoms and treatment side effects. What’s more, some studies suggest that cannabis may actually aid in cancer cell death (a.k.a. apoptosis) without damaging the healthy cells that surround it (NOTE 1)(NOTE 2).
The fact is, cancer is an aggressive disease that requires aggressive treatment. As such, oncologists usually prefer treatments that have proven successful in a significant number of cases, and cannabis as a cancer killer is not necessarily one of them. However, ample research suggests that cannabis effectively treats cancer treatment side effects, regardless of its impact on the disease itself.
To be clear, “symptoms” refer to the effects of a disease itself. For example, cancer symptoms include lumps, sores, and pain, which stem from cancerous cell proliferation within the body. Conversely, “side effects” refer to the body’s reaction to the treatment. In terms of cancer, treatment side effects might include pain, fatigue, hair loss, nausea, and more. The former are issues brought on by the disease, whereas the latter are issues brought on by the treatment.
And both are a doozy.
Fortunately, cannabis has proven to work quickly and effectively to reduce discomforts associated with both symptoms and side effects. Below is a list of the most common discomforts cannabis patients experience, along with an explanation about how cannabis can help. Though this list is certainly not exhaustive, it serves well to show just how beneficial cannabis for cancer can really be.
Pain is the most pervasive cancer symptom, for which doctors usually prescribe opioids. Unfortunately, opioids also come with a slew of side effects, some of which are extremely dangerous. For example, whereas low doses of opioids are generally safe, higher opioid levels may cause slowed breathing and heart rate, and even death in some cases. According to the Center for Disease Control, opioids were involved in roughly 69.5 percent of all overdose-related deaths in 2018 (NOTE 3). That’s 46,802 people who lost their lives to opioids in a single year!
To combat this concern, many cancer patients choose to consume cannabis alongside other pain management options. In fact, research suggests that cannabis can improve the effectiveness of opioids without producing additional adverse effects (NOTE 4). In doing, cannabis helps maintain low cannabinoid doses while maintaining a sufficient barrier against cancer-related pain.
Cancer and its treatment may cause many patients to suffer from persistent nausea and vomiting. This is especially unfortunate given how important it is to maintain a healthy weight during cancer treatment (NOTE 5). Fortunately, cannabis can help patients beat nausea and keep weight. To explain, studies suggest that THC from cannabis may suppress nausea by triggering CB receptors along the digestive tract. CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabis compound, may also reduce nausea by activating 5-HT1A receptors in another part of the brain (NOTE 6).
Moreover, cannabis helps maintain weight during cancer treatment thanks to a phenomenon called “the munchies,” or an insatiable appetite caused by a cannabis high. Though no one is certain why the munchies occur, some speculate that, because cannabis heightens one’s sense of smell, their flavor perception will increase, as well. Others suggest that a cannabis-induced appetite relates to the increased dopamine brought on by a THC high. Whatever the reason for the intense hunger cravings, it is a welcome side effect during cancer treatment.
Cannabis can help fight fatigue in a few different ways. First, some types of cannabis can help patients fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up more rested than they would otherwise. Not only does cannabis help dull pain and nausea to make it easier to get comfy, but it also induces restful sleep. Studies repeatedly show that cannabis can help people fall asleep faster (usually in less than 30 minutes) and stay asleep longer, though they often bypass REM sleep in the process.
On the other hand, cannabis may also combat fatigue by invigorating the user when they feel drowsy. That’s right: cannabis can both put you to bed and wake you up in the morning, which largely depends on the type of cannabis consumed. To be clear, there are many components in the cannabis plant, and each variety of cannabis differs from the next. As such, some varieties will make one feel sleepy while others have the opposite effect. We’ll address this in more detail later when we discuss cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and the Entourage Effect.
We cannot put into words the massive scope of mental anguish that cancer patients feel. Indeed, each situation is different, and each person will react differently, both physically and emotionally, to a cancer diagnosis. Having said that, it is clear that cancer patients – and their loved ones – endure tremendous mental discomfort following a cancer diagnosis. Many will feel anxious about their future or the future of their loved ones. They may also feel stressed about the disease or depressed about the helplessness of the whole situation.
Unfortunately, these mental stressors can hinder the effectiveness of cancer therapy. For example, stressed people may forget the importance of rest, whereas depressed people might fail to properly care for themselves. It is not uncommon for cancer patients to begin drinking heavily or engage in other reckless behavior, dimming the lights on the whole outcome.
However, cannabis can help people fight their mental demons during and after cancer treatment. Research shows that those who consume cannabis compounds experience “dramatic improvements” in anxiety (NOTE 7). THC also helps reduce depression in many users, though the effectiveness is largely dose-dependent. Consequently, determining accurate cannabis dosing is crucial when addressing depression in cancer patients
Mouth sores are a common occurrence among cancer patients. To start, cancer treatment slows down the immune system, making it more difficult for the mouth to recover from minor irritations and increasing the likelihood of infection. Moreover, many cancer treatments, particularly those that target the head and neck, can cause sores and persistent dry mouth to develop.
Though some cannabis products (like smokable flower) can exacerbate cancer-related dry mouth, other products may actually help improve many common oral health problems among cancer patients. For example, patients can gargle with cannabis-infused oils to stave off infections and add moisture to the mouth (NOTE 8). Moreover, CBD-heavy solutions may help strengthen teeth, which tend to become brittle during cancer treatment.
Cancer and its treatment may weaken the skeletal system, causing bones to weaken and fill with tiny holes. The most common cause of weak bones during cancer is cancer cells’ movement from their primary location to the bones. Chemotherapy also reduces calcium levels in the bones, whereas hormone therapy may reduce testosterone production. As such, brittle bones are a common concern among cancer patients regardless of cancer type.
Fortunately, CBD may improve bone health by stimulating cannabinoid receptors in the region. Research shows that CBD, in particular, can stimulate bone growth and help repair fractures quicker and stronger (NOTE 9). THC did not exert the same effects.
Though not a direct side effect of cancer treatment, seclusion is still a significant concern among cancer patients. To begin, cancer is incredibly time-consuming, involving doctor appointments, treatment sessions, adjusted schedules, and lots of rest. As such, these new routines can make it difficult to remain connected (both physically and emotionally) to those around us. However, maintaining close relationships with our peers is vital to a positive outcome and must be fostered as often as possible.
Cannabis has long been a social substance. Smoke circles and religious ceremonies praise the comradery that group cannabis consumption can create. It allows all participants to remove their veil of strength and connect interpersonally with those around them. As such, incorporating cannabis into group activities may be an effective way to maintain relationships and build strong support systems.
Cancer is a devastating disease, wreaking havoc on one’s body, mind, and spirit. It moves fast, hits hard, and forever changes all of those involved. Notably, cancer deeply affects its patients and everyone around them, leaving many desperately grasping for a solution to the pain.
To be clear, cancer is truly painful, but its not only physical pain that affects us. In fact, cancer often causes profound mental anguish that can lead to depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Though genuinely awful for the cancer patient, caretakers and loved ones often battle the same woes.
As such, many patients and caregivers have begun incorporating cannabis into their cancer treatment schedule. Cannabis can help both patients and their loved ones battle the mental disturbances that accompany the disease and strengthen their bonds during this crucial time.
In this book, we’ll discuss why and how to incorporate cannabis into a cancer treatment routine. We’ll also provide the information necessary to create and consume the best cannabis products for your unique needs.
NOTE 1: Sultan, A., Marie, M., & Sheweita, S. (2018, June 22). Novel mechanism of cannabidiol-induced apoptosis in breast cancer cell lines. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0960977618301218
NOTE 2: Baram, L., Peled, E., Berman, P., Yellin, B., Besser, E., Benami, M., . . . Meiri, D. (2019, June 25). The heterogeneity and complexity of cannabis extracts as antitumor agents. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6609248/
NOTE 3: Drug Overdose Deaths. (2020, March 19). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html#:~:text=The%20age%2Dadjusted%20rate%20of,of%20all%20drug%20overdose%20deaths).
NOTE 4: Jose, A., Thomas, L., Baburaj, G., Munisamy, M., & Rao, M. (2020). Cannabinoids as an Alternative Option for Conventional Analgesics in Cancer Pain Management: A Pharmacogenomics Perspective. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7017683/
NOTE 5: Jenlmat. (2018, June 20). How to Maintain Weight During Cancer Treatment. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.rogelcancercenter.org/living-with-cancer/mind-body-and-side-effects/nutrition/gaining-weight-during-cancer-treatment
NOTE 6: Parker, L., Rock, E., & Limebeer, C. (2011, August). Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165951/
NOTE 7: Robson, P. (2018, January 02). Therapeutic aspects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The British Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/therapeutic-aspects-of-cannabis-and-cannabinoids/A6F35FDD2868806FD91F0F215B24736C
NOTE 8: Stahl, V., & Vasudevan, K. (2020, January 29). Comparison of Efficacy of Cannabinoids versus Commercial Oral Care Products in Reducing Bacterial Content from Dental Plaque: A Preliminary Observation. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6991146/
NOTE 9: LEARN. (n.d.). Kogan NM; Melamed E; Wasserman E; Raphael B; Breuer A; Stok KS; Sondergaard R; Escudero AV; Baraghithy S; Attar-Namdar M; Friedlander-Barenboim S; Mathavan N; Isaksson H; Mechoulam R; Müller R; Bajayo A; Gabet Y; Bab I;. (n.d.). Cannabidiol, a Major Non-Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing and Stimulates Lysyl Hydroxylase Activity in Osteoblasts. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25801536/
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|Post Excerpt / Short Description||This article represents Chapter 1 in the book "Cannabis and Cancer" and includes numerous scholarly references. Please contact me to commission production for the rest of the book.|